Andrew McKenna is a Legal Advocate here at Xavier DWI Defense Attorneys. He is the author of Sheer Madness: From Federal Prosecutor to Federal Prisoner. He helps our clients navigate a difficult period of their lives with support and guidance and with a hands-on approach similar to a family connection. And we’ve asked him to share his story here.
Paul Grondahl, an award winning journalist, had a great line when reviewing my memoir for the Albany Times Union. He said, “Heroin doesn’t read resumes.” No truer words were ever spoken. Years ago, when I was going through Marine Corps Officer training, I slipped during a night land navigation test, and fell a hundred or so feet down a steep crevasse. When I eventually fully came to, I couldn’t feel my legs. I was convinced that I was paralyzed or close to it. Perhaps it was divine intervention or stupid luck, but after a few minutes lying on my back, the feeling came back. A tear rolled down my face either from the pain or abject gratitude that my spine wasn’t broken.
I ended up making it to my feet and completed the test, miraculously passing. But, that night starting me down a slippery slope of pain management. The Marines didn’t prescribe narcotics back then except for extreme cases. Now with war injuries, it’s different I’m sure, but for a training accident without broken bones, they didn’t. Besides, I wasn’t ready to admit to an injury because of how it could have affected my young career. I had just finished law school, and the current school I was in—The Basic School—a six month training requirement for all officers, and the Naval Justice School in Rhode Island, were the final obstacles to getting to my first real base. And into the courtroom. The courtroom was where I wanted to be, and where many believed I belonged. So I kept my mouth shut and treated my pain with Motrin and heating pads.
When I left the Marines and joined the Justice Department in Washington, things changed. I was assigned, ironically enough, to the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the Department’s Criminal Division. The mission was to investigate and prosecute international drug cartels, as well as track money laundering interests. Part of the job was to travel inside and outside the country interviewing witnesses and getting the cases ready to present to grand juries. It was great work and I was having a ball.
As time went by, I put on some weight and coupled with sitting on 8 hour flights eventually put extra stress on my back. At the same time I was experiencing some marital trouble and feeling the extra stress of the prospect of a failing marriage. I ended up calling a local doctor in Washington to complain about the pain. I suggested a strong pain medication—Percocet I think. The good doctor, old school for sure, said, “Sure, how many?” I quite honestly thought 30 would be sufficient. And they were sufficient, at least the first few times he prescribed them. But over time they were no longer sufficient.
Fast forward a couple of years. My wife at the time and I left Washington, and I took a job with a firm in Albany, New York. With our marriage still on the rocks, the writing was on the wall. The twist, and the catalyst if you will, came when I couldn’t find a New York doctor to prescribe the pain pills at the level I was used to. I began going through withdrawals—some of the worst pain I’ve ever felt. An old childhood friend popped into my life around this time. I knew he smoked pot back in the day, so decided to ask him if he knew where I could get Percocet. His response was, “No, but I can get Oxycontin.” Plot shift … game changer … heroin in a pill.
It wasn’t long before my addiction to Oxcontin and soon heroin landed me in St. Peter’s Hospital throwing up blood for hours, thinking, hoping I would just die. After losing my job, and losing custody of my children, and frankly losing all hope, I fell into a deep depression. My depression turned to anger, frustration and despair and I inexplicably ended up robbing a bunch of banks. I’m still peeling back layers of the bank robbing onion. I’m not a sociopath, after all.
U.S. District Judge Kahn sentenced me to 65 months in prison. It was there that I was able to get my mind around much of what had occurred, and began to write about it. The thing with addiction is that it’s usually tied to depression or some other mental health issue. For me, I couldn’t deal with the loss of my children, especially knowing that my actions were the main reason for the loss.
I travel the country talking to schools, colleges, and organizations about the perils of prescription drug use and untreated depression. My depression was episodic. Most people are not so lucky. Ultimately though, my talks are stories of hope and redemption. I’ve been told that my roller coaster ride story instills in people that no matter how far you’ve fallen, or how bad or crazy things have become in your life, you can get off the roller coaster. It takes work, but with every right move you make, the possibility of a happy life grows. Think of it as a speck of light that gets larger and larger until you’re surrounded by the light and happiness you deserve, indeed, that you earned.
Andrew is a Legal Advocate at Xavier DWI Defense Attorneys. To view his complete bio, click here.
The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Xavier DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 269 W. Jefferson St.; Syracuse, New York 13202; Telephone No.: (315) 473-0899. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.